Louisiana DWF Verifies Cougar Sightings

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has received photographic evidence of the second and third documented cougar occurrences in the state in recent history. Photos viewable at: http://www.wlf.state.la.us/news/?id=1130 .

Private citizens sent trail camera pictures from two different sites to the department in September. LDWF Large Carnivore Program Manager Maria Davidson and LDWF Natural Heritage Zoologist Beau Gregory then conducted site investigations that confirmed the authenticity of the photographs.

"The department interviewed the photo providers and investigated the sites and photographs. After inspecting all of the evidence, we have concluded with the best of our abilities that the photos are in fact real and of a cougar," Davidson said.

The first photograph was taken in Natchitoches parish on Sept. 4, and the second was taken in Allen parish on Sept. 29. The sites are approximately 100 miles apart, leading to speculation that the same cougar could be in both photos.

"Given the time lapse between the two pictures it is certainly possible for a cougar to have traveled that distance," Davidson said. "Both animals have the same general appearance of a young cougar, but it is impossible to determine conclusively if the animals are one and the same. It is also impossible to determine if the animals in the photographs are wild free-ranging mountain lions, or escaped captives."

Although it is illegal to own a cougar in Louisiana, it is possible that there are some illegally held "pets" in the state. Anyone holding a captive cougar in Louisiana must have a permit issued by LDWF, as captive cougars may compromise public safety. LDWF may issue permits to existing owners in the state in order to reduce difficulties associated with determining the validity of reported cougar sightings.

The mountain lion, cougar, panther or puma are names that all refer to the same animal. Their color ranges from lighter tan to brownish grey.

The only species of big cats that occur as black are the jaguar and leopard. Jaguars are native to South America and leopards are native to Africa. Both species can occur as spotted or black, although in both cases the spotted variety is much more common. Although the department receives numerous calls about "black panthers", there has never been a documented case of a black cougar anywhere in North America.

The first recently documented cougar sighting was in 2002 by LDWF Program Manager Michael Carloss on Lake Fausse Point State Park. That sighting was later confirmed with DNA analysis from scat found at the site.

The department receives many calls reporting sightings of cougars throughout Louisiana. The vast majority of these reports cannot be verified due to the very nature of a sighting. These animals can move through an area and leave little or no evidence to be found. Many of the calls are found to be cases of mistaken identity. Dog tracks make up the majority of the evidence submitted by those reporting cougar sightings. Other animals commonly mistaken for cougars are bobcats and house cats, usually seen from a distance or in varying shades of light.

The significant lack of physical evidence leads the department to conclude that Louisiana does not have an established, breeding population of cougars. In states that have verified small populations of cougars, physical evidence can readily be found in the form of tracks, cached deer kills, scat and road kills. The recent occurrences of cougars in Louisiana may be young animals dispersing from existing populations in west Texas. An expanding population in west Texas can produce dispersing individual cougars that move into suitable habitat in Louisiana. Young males are known to disperse from their birthplace and travel hundreds of miles seeking their own territories.

Cougars that occur in Louisiana are protected under state and federal law. Penalties for taking a cougar in Louisiana may include up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine. Anyone with any information regarding the taking of a cougar should call LA Operation Game Thief, inc. at 1-800-442-2511. Callers may remain anonymous and may receive a cash reward.

To report verifiable sightings of cougars containing physical evidence such as photos, tracks and/or scat please call Maria Davidson at 337-948-0255 or your nearest LDWF Region office at: Minden 318-371-3050 Monroe 318-343-4044 Pineville 318-487-5885 Ferriday 318-757-4571 Lake Charles 337-491-2575 Opelousas 337-948-0255 Baton Rouge 225-765-2360.

For more information, please contact Maria Davidson at 337-948-0255. 2008-291